One of the justifications for the proposed personal independence payment is that there is less of an need to supply a disabled people with cash for mobility costs now that we have the disability discrimination act to ensure laws governing access and the NHS to provide wheelchairs. So, instead of someone’s ability to walk, their ability to ‘mobilise’ will be considered.
Today I am trying to book a train ticket to London for the 28th of March. I wish to attend a meeting about potential amendments to the welfare reform bill in the House of Commons. Fortunately the timing of the meeting means that even from Liverpool I can travel back and forth in one day if I take the train. You might expect those laws against discrimination and ensuring access to mean that booking a trip to London travelling by train would be easy. So far today I’ve spent over 2 hours trying to organise this trip to London and have yet to book a ticket.
It all seemed so simple: My plan was to drive to Liverpool with my mobility scooter which my Motability car is equipped to carry, park and use the scooter to travel by train to London with and drive home late evening. Use a ticket booking website and make a phone call to check about access and assistance. Except when it comes to disability access it’s never straightforward. I spent some time selecting which train times would work, looking at prices, working out where to leave my car then decided which trains to catch, and found the phone number for the operator, Virgin trains to check the access requirements.
That was when it became really complicated, trains are accessible to wheelchairs including power wheelchairs, however mobility scooters are only allowed on some trains. Virgin trains* only allow the three wheel type scooter as they do not have room for four wheeled scooters to turn. They also do not have storage room so that a scooter can be stowed away from the seating area which would enable many mobility scooter users to travel independently by train as they tend to have some, limited mobility. Despite checking and rechecking the various different regulations it seems that mobility scooters are quite commonly prohibited on trains.
So what’s the problem? After all I do have a wheelchair. Unfortunately I only have an attendant wheelchair as I am unable to self propel the traditional Manual wheelchair, which means that to use my wheelchair I have to have someone with me to push me. I’m not entitled to a care package from my local authority, despite being disabled enough to receive high rates of DLA for care and mobility, so any support must be paid for from my disability living allowance care component which already pays to fund a private carer twice a week, specialist physio not available on the NHS, and myriad other additional disability costs. Paying for a PA for the day plus an extra ticket on the train is prohibitively expensive. Finding a friend to act as a PA may be possible but the meeting is held on Monday and most of my friends are in fulltime employment. Despite being Big Society fans the realities of mortgages, bills and life means however much they’d love to spend a day taking me to London their own employers just don’t feel the same. Funny that.
I am currently on a waiting list for an NHS Power wheelchair, I was referred before Christmas 2010 and I am still waiting to hear when my assessment at home will be. Although I can’t self propel a traditional Manual wheelchair, I don’t technically meet the rules of eligibility for NHS Power wheelchairs. In most areas an NHS Power wheelchair will only be supplied to people who are unable to walk or self propel a Manual wheelchair around their own homes. If that’s the case, once the individual reaches the top of the waiting list they will be supplied with an indoor powerchair only for an initial period of six months before being considered for a powerchair that is capable of going outdoors as well as indoors. The reason I don’t technically meet the requirements is because although my joints are too weak to self propel a Manual wheelchair I do have some, albeit limited mobility, particularly in my own home and wish to preserve its for as long as possible.
Instead of a wheelchair like many people in my position I use a powered mobility scooter. They tend to cost less money, are available more readily second hand and require less specialist assessment to ensure they are appropriate to individual needs. They tend to be used outdoors only preserving the ability to mobilize within the person’s own home and limiting the amount of work that needs to be done to make a home accessible. I could use my DLA mobility component to fund a power wheelchair but it’s already committed to funding a vehicle with a hoist so that I can use my mobility scooter independently, and if I ever become entitled to a powerchair would also be able to carry that.
So I’m left facing the following options;
Find a friend who is free to take me to London and act as my PA. Fund their ticket and day.
Find someone in London (who I won’t know) who is willing to volunteer their time to act as my PA for the day and travel with my attendant wheelchair
Share a friend’s PA, although we are travelling on separate trains and said PA would then need to assist 2 wheelchair users, pushing one of us to get back across rush hour London for a train.
Hire a powerwheelchair locally and use that to travel independently.
Option 4 is the most practical, I’m a member of Shopmobility in Liverpool and can hire a powerchair for a week for £40, plus a refundable £50 deposit. Unfortunately, despite my car having an electric hoist to lift my mobility scooter, a hired wheelchair won’t have the fixings needed by the hoist so that makes travelling to and from Liverpool complicated. I will have to find someone to drive me to Liverpool (about 25 minutes, including tunnel tolls each way) so that I can be dropped off at shopmobility, collect the powerchair and use the local trains to travel home, probably needing to book assistance in advance. I’d then be able to use the local train to travel to Liverpool, then London in the powerchair independently but I would have to fund an accessible taxi for the return journey home as it will be late at night. Hiring and returning the powerchair on the same day is not a practical option unfortunately. Then, finally I will have to travel back to Liverpool using the local train service, return the powerchair and find someone who’s willing to collect and drive me home – again likely meaning two sets of tunnel tolls.
The initial cost of travelling to London as an able bodied person would have been approximately £61 plus whatever travel cards cost. Instead, as a disabled person it will cost me;
£40 wheelchair hire
£50 deposit (refundable but must be provided upfront)
£15 (approx.) Local train journeys to bring hired wheelchair back & forth
£6 tunnel tolls
£35-40 Accessible taxi
£? Taxi’s in London
£65 (approx.) Train fare
Meaning that although I will get the £50 deposit back I’ll have to find approximately £250 in advance to fund a day trip to London for a meeting. One week’s care component of high rate DLA is £70 (approx.) The total amount of time I've spent trying to sort this out is approaching 5 hours and I still haven't managed to secure my plans enough to be able to book a train ticket.
So much for ‘mobilising’ Perhaps Ms Miller will do her Big Society duty and volunteer to drive me to London herself?
*Please Note: This is a problem common to all train companies and not specific to Virgin trains.